13/11/2012 Newsnight


13/11/2012

The stories behind the day's headlines, including gas prices, the new Chinese leadership, and should politics and soaps mix? With Emily Maitlis.


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Transcript


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Has the cost of our gas been subject to price-fixing, two

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whistleblowers say they fear market manipulation. How extensive can the

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practice be? I think the opportunity to make illicit gains

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through market manipulation, could be too great for some companies to

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resist it. These two might know if the fix is really in. One sixth of

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the world's population is about to be told whom its new leader will be.

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We will be live in Beijing to find out how the new guard is different

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from the old guard, and what it means to the rest of us.

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Thousands of civilians were killed in the last months of Sri Lanka's

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civil war, now a leaked report obtained by the BBC, say there were

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grave failures by the UN to protect them. There were people to protect

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the population, they left at the moment when the population needed

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them more than ever. The Government wanted them out of the way,

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essentially because they didn't want anyone to see what was

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happening. Also tonight. Something was biting me, and I thought it was

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a rat biting me, my fear is rats. Do politicians and popular culture

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mix? And does soap operas have a duty to reflect political reality.

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We have Phil Redmond, Christine Hamilton, and Lembit Opik to

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discuss. Good evening, the Energy Secretary

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has promised the full force of the law will be used against anyone

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involved in attemptss to rig the gas market. Ofgem, the Financial

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Services Authority, are investigating gas companies, and

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the wholesale gas market, after a whistleblower claimed it was being

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manipulated. The main companies, known as the big six, deny any

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wrongdoing, the claim, by suggests evidence of suspect trading, comes

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as customers have soaring price, some gas bills rising 10% over the

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course of the year. This is my gas thermostat, I leave

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it on all the time, upstairs I have a switch and I adjust t I put it on

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one or two hours an evening, I can't afford to keep it on all the

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time. Helen peters is more than fuel poor, her income totals �70 a

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week, half of that goes on gas and electricity.

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If I had had to choose between keeping warm for me and my daughter

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and family and grandchild, or buy food, I will cut down on the food.

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I have cut down on the food a lot. So has all my family. Everybody has

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to pay electric and gas. The price that they are at the moment is, you

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know, especially with this cold weather coming, I think it is

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diabolical. Helen says she has been storing food for the winter, to get

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her through the colder months. Far removed from the cold reality of

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fuel poverty is a neb Luis world, where the gas price that hell --

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nebbu Luis world, where the gas price Helen has to pay, decided by

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gas providers who never had to face the choice between food and fuel.

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From that energy world, a whistleblower has emerged, saying

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the wholesale market is rigged and there is little we can do about it.

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It has become apparent to me, having spoken to traders who set

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the gas price on a daily basis for most of 2012, that people are

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worried about manipulation, and there are several key examples

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where it appears prices have been fixed. Not many insiders get their

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concerns aired so quickly in the House of Commons, but this is a

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world post-banking scandal, where soaring gas prices and national

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austerity have pressed politicians into action, vocal action, at least.

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At the early stage in the investigation, Mr Speaker, it is

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not possible to understand what the impact on country sumeers,

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companies or markets may have been, -- consumers, companies or markets

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have been, if the allegations are made to be true. I can assure the

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House of our absolute determination to uncover any abuse wherever and

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by whoever. I see it as my job to protect consumer, not least the

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most vulnerable, who can suffer the most when markets are abused.

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This is how the energy market currently works. Those companies

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which actually find oil and gas are called upstream generators, they

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sell their produce into an openly traded market. Energy suppliers,

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called downstream suppliers, who sell to you and me, buy from this

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market. There is a less transparent market called the over-the-counter

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market, where one gas producer signs a private deal to supply

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energy to somebody else. These contracts are rarely published and

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opaque. Now the spotlight is falling on the energy trading

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market as a whole, which can have a huge impact on the final price that

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lafpbdz as a bill on our doorstep - - lands as a bill on our doorsteps.

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Ofgem, the watchdog, is examining the wholesale gas market to see if

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it is fixed or not. All of the big six said none of their traders are

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involved in price faxing, and the market is d fixing, and the market

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is open. A smaller energy supplier says otherwise. I think the

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opportunity to make illicit gains, through market manipulation could

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be too great for some companies to resist it. When you look at the way

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in which some of these companies are trading on the market, it can

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be very difficult to say whether or not there is any illicit behaviour

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or not. I think the biggest thing we need is more transparency. The

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Government can try to regulate for. That the best thing I think they

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could do is regulate for more competition and the market forces

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take care of it itself. Let's get an idea of who gets what from the

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average energy bill, which consumers have to pay. The average

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dual fuel British Gas bill comes to �1,025 annually. Nearly half of

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that, or �475 goes to the wholesale market, which is now being probed.

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Distribution, or getting the fuel to your home accounts for �245 of

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the total, the Government takes �152 through VAT and other tax, and

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British Gas says �100 goes to cover its operating costs, with the final

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�53, or 5% of the total bill going to the company's net profit.

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heating and the electric, that is essentials, these are most basic

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essentials, and I think that it is the basic essentials of life,

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living in this country, is that people are struggling. It is

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worrying, it is really Worcesterying for the old people.

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For the people with children -- it is really worrying for the old

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people, for the people with children everyone. The bastions of

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society, banking, journalism, they have been exposed in the last few

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years. The energy sector, which none of us can avoid, will hope too

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that it won't join the Rogues' Gallery.

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Joining me is the director of external affairs at the pressure

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group Consumer Focus, and one of the men at the heart of the story,

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Patrick Heren. Do you recognise this description of rogue

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transactions we have heard, from not one, but two whistleblowers

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this evening? I recognise the occasional tendency of traders to

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try to move the price at the end of the day. But what I would like to

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say about this is that the journalist concerned, who is being

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described as a whistleblower, was a man who clearly didn't do his job

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properly. Why do you say that? Because he had an inkling that

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there was something wrong, he didn't make the phone calls that he

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should have done. He didn't go back and speak to his colleagues or do a

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wide range of other gas traders. With the intention of, as it were,

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discounting those rogue trades, or those apparently rogue trades.

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many times do you think there are these rogue trades made. Does it

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always depend on somebody to have to meantally discount it, or report

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upwards. It sound like it happens a lot? It doesn't happen a lot, or

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not in my experience. The last time I could remember it happening was

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about five or six years ago. And in that case, it was a series of

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transactions that went in on the close about a penny above where the

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true value was of the market. We recognise that, we agonised over it.

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When I say "we", I and my staff and my editors. We spent an hour, hour-

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and-a-half discussing it and talking to a wide range of traders.

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From what Patrick is saying, this is something that a company like

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Heren, the benchmark pricing company, can sort out themselves.

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Are you confident about that? not comfortable that the day job of

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Heren, when Patrick was there, and subsequently, is to filter out

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willful distortion and manipulation of the market. Even a 1p on the

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price of a firm, multiplied by the volumes in the gas market is

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enormous. This is a market which has such low levels of consumer

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confidence and trust already, these allegations are really corrosive.

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Are you comfortable that you are essentially the gateway for any

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decision on the gas wholesale market? Yes, I'm no longer the

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gateway, I haven't been the gateway for five years. In the sense of

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your company, you founded a company that basically becomes the

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benchmark? So it is very open to manipulation, presumably? I don't

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think it is very open to manipulation. The thing about a

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market, maybe most people haven't dealt with markets. The thing about

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a market is it is full of buyers and sellers. But the allegation is

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not that it is full of buyers and sellers, the allegation is that

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there are people within it, who may sell, or may buy at one price, but

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they tell you that they are doing something different, that's the

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manipulation? Yes, there are people who sometimes try to do that. Let

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me finish the point. You put this to me. The job of a price reporter

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is to work out who is doing that. And to correct for it. Can I say,

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also, if we have the supposed alternative to this, which might be,

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say, a complete electronic market, on which all trades were cleared.

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There would be no possibility then of correcting the kind of skewed

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trades that go in here. Clearly this is an incredibly complicated

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system, with very little transparency, that is what the

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consumer takes away from this. But does this actually mean that our

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prices have been rigged by this kind of behaviour? I think what we

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need to find out. I think Patrick is right, commodity trading is open

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to these sorts of risks. Wholesale energy is more important than

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commodity trading and cocoa beans, it is important it is above board

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and seen to be such. What we don't know is whether the allegations of

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manipulation of the market, that the whistleblowers have come out

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with, made a material difference to the actual wholesale, the benchmark

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price. Do you fear that has happened? I fear, if it is a

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possibility, let alone a probability, that is the basis for

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a thorough investigation from the FSA. I would say, if you have two

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things coming together, which is, a not uncommon practice of traders to

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gain the market, and the possibility that could have an

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impact on the benchmark price of wholesale gas, I think there is

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something fundamentally wrong with the wholesale gas market, we need

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to have a body like the Competition Commission, that can come in, and

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as Patrick was alluding to, find better and more efficient markets

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moderator. And consumers can be assured of one thing, they are

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paying a fair price for commodities, based on supply and demand.

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would have to agree with that? entirely, no. The system as it is

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works reasonably well. The thing is, let's keep this in context in

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proportion. This was one price, that this chap got wrong, which he

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should not have got wrong. Which was, which was moved by less than

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half a penny a thermat to 60p a they wereat. It was gas for the

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next day. It wouldn't have made a difference? For the gas household

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price it wouldn't have made a difference. That is contestable,

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even a penny on the price of they were, with the volumes of trades

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going through -- therm, with the volumes of trades going through.

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There are two specific allegations of a day's trading, if the FSA says

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these are two rogue events after investigation, we have an issue.

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Ifs something more, if there is a culture, even in part of the

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trading community, saying this is the common way of behaving in trade

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to go gain the market. I'm very uncomfortable with that, there

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needs to be more investigation about whether we have a fair market

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price for gas that reflects its cost.

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Thank you very much. By this time tomorrow, China will be on the cusp

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of announcing its new leader, a moment that could have

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ramifications for the rest of the world. The last leadership change

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was ten years ago, since then, China's power has grown hugely, and

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so, for some, has the economic threat the country now poses. We're

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in Beijing with Paul Mason. Hello from Beijing, where a

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freezing cold dawn is breaking on what will be the last day of the

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18th Congress of the Communist Party. Never before have so many

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flowers been arranged in straight lines, hands raised in unison. Here

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at the Congress, behind the scenes, there is a debate raising.

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According to the official news agency today, there are three

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debates going on, about equal rights, equal opportunities, and

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what they say, equality before the law. The rule of law. And it is

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this last thing that is focusing people's attention. One official

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daily newspaper, down in the south of the country, said in its

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editorial yesterday, said some party delegates think privileges

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people can find a good job based on their father's influence, and some

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people have better access to better medical care. Any taxi driver will

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tell you that. The fact it is discussed behind the scenes at the

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party conference is important. It is not just an abstract debate, the

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outgoing leadership, under Hu Jintao, has been wanting to deliver

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on the social agenda. The in coming leadership, Deng Xiaoping, is

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aligned to an older group, to be, frank, their trade marks have been

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crackdowns and economic liberalisation and all the

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inequality that comes with it, and not a great record on corruption.

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In 48 hours time we find out the final balance between those two

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groups inside the Communist Party. And joining me to discuss what the

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outcomes could be, is a man who should know, the Sydney Morning

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Herald's China correspondent, and author of recent book about the

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disgraced party leader. How real are the debates? It is a very real

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debate. This is a very exciting time we are here, in and outside of

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the party, on the left and right, everybody agrees on the very

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problems that you outlined. It is about corruption, it is about neppo

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ism, justice and law d nepotisim, justice and law. Until now, nobody

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has agreed on a solution. The question is whether there is a

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radio map and the party. All of these things mean the party loosens

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its grip, a little bit, on power, and whether it has the ability to

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do that, nobody knows. As a drama it is like hamlet without the ghost.

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Bo Shi Lii is gone, he's dismissed, how is that playing in the Great

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Hall of the People? It is very difficult to overstate the

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importance of it. This is the first time in the modern era where

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everything has been blown open. We have had a peak peek -- peek into

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the core of the system, it looks nasty, abuse of power, corruption,

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torture, and it was run like a personal kingdom, this is not the

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way the Communist Party is supposed to operate. Since then we have seen

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layers, new layers of cynicism and new questions about the legitimacy

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of the party, and an even more pressing acknowledgement. It blows

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open the whole transition process. It means that the rules, that

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everybody thought were there, really it shows that somebody, that

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chaos can intervene into the apparent order? I think that's very

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true. One thing, Bo Shi Li had genius, one of those things was

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recognising we are in a new era, all the elders have gone, there is

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no natural source of legitimacy. long March veterans? No, and you

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need to compete internally. Everyone recognises they have to

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convince, not the old guy on top, but their peers, to do that they

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have to convince them they have the answer for the country. This is a

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very vigorous contested time. Outside the great hall, we are --

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great hall. We are above one of the great streets in Beijing, it is a

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buzzing city. There is the other China, there is the China of the

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internet. What do you pick up from the social media, such as it is

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allowed to exist here, about people's reactions to the Congress?

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There is two Chinas, there are the people on-line, and people who get

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their news from CCTV, really. Chinese state television? That's

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right. People who are on-line, in a completely new mind set, it is

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unrecoginsable from even three or four years ago, how people can

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connect to each other, share each other's problems, realising that

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the official that is causing them trouble is part of the same system

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that is causing their friends trouble. I think what this does is

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it is a demokyiesing technology, whether the party changes --

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dedemocratising technology whether the party change or not.

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effective Government, the party leadership, what is the best guess

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as to the final balance, and what does it mean when we find the final

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balance between the two factions? You mentioned Hu Jintao, he has

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been under a huge amount of pressure lately. One of the

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extraordinary things is it looks like the guy that was supposed to

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have retired ten years ago may be more powerful than anybody else in

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the country. There is nothing in the constitution that says that

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should be so. But it might be so. So we will get a much better idea

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tomorrow. One of the key questions is whether there is two of Hu

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Jintao's guys known as more reformist than others, if they miss

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out it is a real question. It could end up there is stuff to play for,

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for once at a CCP Congress? People say all time this is about the

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future of China. Thank you. Signing off, we will be back for

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the rest of this week, for the all- important finale to this Congress,

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over to you in the studio. Hope it gets warmer. Thank you very

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much. An internal United Nations report, seen by the BBC, says the

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UN was responsible for a grave failure to protect civilians in the

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final stage of Sri Lanka's civil war, three-and-a-half years ago.

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The draft report says senior UN staff in Colombo didn't see it as

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their responsibility, to prevent the killings. The UN's estimated at

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least 40,000 were killed in the final months of that conflict.

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It had been one of the world's longest-running and bloodiest civil

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wars. In May 2009, a quarter century of battle ended on the

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shores of this Indian Ocean island. Government forces crushed the last

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of the Tamil Tigers. They had fought for a Tamil state in this

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northern peninsula. Now, all rebel leaders were dead.

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So were tens of thousands of civilians.

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In the years since then the United Nations and others have found

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evidence of abuses for both sides, and possible war crimes. Now the UN

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has investigated itself for its own conduct during the last brutal

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months of war. We have been given a copy of the internal report in the

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final stages. It found the United Nations didn't stand up for the

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very people it should have protected.

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The report concludes this marks a grave failure of the UN to respond

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to early warning in the evolving situation.

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To the detriment of hundreds of thousands of civilians. In Colombo,

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many senior UN staff simply didn't perceive the prevention of killing

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civilians as their responsibility. They weren't being instructed to do

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otherwise from New York. In the UN they did not keep member states or

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the public fully informed. A systemic failure, that should not

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happen again. But how did it happen in Sri Lanka?

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September 2008, the Sri Lankan Government launched its final

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assault in the northern region called the Wanni. The UN base was

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in the town of Kilinochchi. No UN peacekeepers were on that mission.

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As fighting intensified, the Government warned UN aid workers it

0:22:320:22:34

couldn't guarantee their safety. The report says the UN never

0:22:340:22:39

questioned the Government's warning. And their departure had a severe

0:22:390:22:44

impact on its ability to provide aid and protect civilians.

0:22:440:22:47

Benjamin Dix was part of the team told to leave. I believe we should

0:22:470:22:52

have gone further north, not evacuate south, and basically

0:22:520:22:55

abandon the civilian population with no protection or witness.

0:22:550:23:01

how did it feel for you then on the ground? As a humanitarian worker,

0:23:010:23:04

questions running through my mind is what is this all about. Isn't

0:23:040:23:09

this what we signed up to do. We're here to protect and witness these

0:23:090:23:14

things. Then having to drive out of there, past these people, wearing a

0:23:140:23:18

helmet and flack jacket and all the protection we have because we are

0:23:180:23:23

international, was, I have never been so ashamed of the colour of my

0:23:230:23:27

skin. Those left behind protested outside

0:23:270:23:30

the UN compound. Begging them not to go.

0:23:300:23:35

I met one woman who was there that day. A school teacher, now seeking

0:23:350:23:40

asylum here in Britain. She asked us not to disclose her identity.

0:23:400:23:47

She called herself Kali. TRANSLATION: We even organised a

0:23:470:23:51

hunger strike, pleading with them not to leave, and to save us. But

0:23:510:23:56

after they left things became very bad. So many people died along the

0:23:560:24:06
0:24:060:24:11

road. So many people died because In this brutal end game, hundreds

0:24:110:24:17

of thousands of Tamil civilians were trapped, used as pawns by both

0:24:170:24:22

sides. Tamil Tigers forcibly recruited them, or used them as

0:24:220:24:26

human shields. By this time fighting focused on a small area,

0:24:260:24:35

around the towns of Mullatti vu,, and PTK, the Government designated

0:24:350:24:40

called no-fire zones and told civilians to go there.

0:24:400:24:46

But it is accused of shelling the no-fire zone, including hospitals.

0:24:460:24:50

The Government repeatedly denies that.

0:24:500:24:54

Sutu was a Sam mill journalist in the warzone, who fled to the UK

0:24:540:24:59

when the conflict ended. What is your worst memory of the war?

0:24:590:25:03

TRANSLATION: I witnessed the incident where the hospital was

0:25:030:25:07

bombed. There were clear science on the hospital roof that it was a

0:25:070:25:11

hospital. But regardless of the signs, the hospital was bombed. A

0:25:110:25:15

number of people died in front of my eyes. Did you try to send

0:25:150:25:21

messages to the UN, to the world, about what was happening?

0:25:210:25:28

TRANSLATION: I kept sending messages and photos of civilian

0:25:280:25:34

casualties, and of the bombs. I requested my contacted to tell the

0:25:340:25:37

world and intervene and stop the war. Many more just suffer in

0:25:370:25:41

silence. TRANSLATION: I was locked up in a small, dark room where I

0:25:410:25:46

was beaten up with wires, batons and plastic pipes. I was also

0:25:460:25:53

burned with cigarette butt, and they raped me. Kali's story is the

0:25:530:25:58

story of many Tamil, forced to work for the tigers, detained by the

0:25:580:26:06

Government. The report says the UN repeatedly condemned the Tamil

0:26:060:26:11

Tigers for serious human rights offences, but largely avoided

0:26:110:26:15

mention of the Government's responsibilities. This was because

0:26:150:26:19

the information could not be verified, according to them. But

0:26:190:26:23

the report says the information had been verified to a good standard.

0:26:230:26:27

The report notes that throughout the final stages of the bloody

0:26:270:26:30

conflict, the UN issued only one statement, condemning both sides.

0:26:300:26:35

There was a reluctance to publish casualty figures. Why did this

0:26:350:26:39

happen? The report explains it in this way, it said decision-making

0:26:390:26:43

across the UN was dominated by a culture of trade-offs, choosing not

0:26:430:26:47

to speak out against a Government, that was, in the words of the

0:26:470:26:52

report, intimidating UN staff, was seen as the only way to increase

0:26:520:27:02
0:27:020:27:03

humanitarian access. In the final stages of the war, the

0:27:030:27:07

Government set up what it called "welfare villages", for displaced

0:27:070:27:13

people emerges from the warzone. In reality, they were military-run

0:27:130:27:16

internment camp, to screen people suspected of involvement with the

0:27:160:27:21

Tamil Tiger. The UN confronted a dilemma, it had

0:27:210:27:25

no independent access to locations with persistent allegations of

0:27:250:27:31

human rights abuses. But it decided there was an imperative to provide

0:27:310:27:37

urgent food and medical supplies. But the report notes the

0:27:370:27:40

considerable consternation within the aid community over this

0:27:400:27:45

involvement. Sri Lankan civilians questioned it too. TRANSLATION:

0:27:450:27:50

They did help the people in the camps by supplying food and other

0:27:500:27:53

essential items, but that is not very helpful. Because we were kept

0:27:530:27:57

there as prisoner of the Government. It is almost like someone visiting

0:27:570:28:01

a prison and supplying sweets to the prisoners. It wouldn't save our

0:28:010:28:11
0:28:110:28:15

lives, and they didn't guarantee any protection for us. The report

0:28:150:28:20

does highlight the positive role of some UN staff on the ground, and

0:28:200:28:24

the secretary-general, Ban Ki-Moon. But it is catagorical, there was a

0:28:240:28:27

systemic failure, everything from the UN's sense of the mission, and

0:28:270:28:32

its machinery was at fault. The UN should be the moral

0:28:320:28:35

conscience of the world. Edward Mortimer is a former senior UN

0:28:350:28:39

official, who now chairs the Sri Lanka campaign for human rights and

0:28:390:28:43

Jews at this. There was no UN force in Sri Lanka, but there were people

0:28:430:28:48

who were there to help the population, and they left actually

0:28:480:28:51

-- justice. There was no UN force in shrilaank, but there were people

0:28:510:28:55

there to help, but they left at the time the people needed them more.

0:28:550:28:58

The Government wanted them out of the way because they didn't want

0:28:580:29:00

anyone to see what was happening. You were part of the system, if

0:29:010:29:07

there was a systemic failure in Sri Lanka, is there any hope it can be

0:29:070:29:14

different? Many of us said at the time that there was a system to

0:29:140:29:21

protect in Sri Lanka, but it didn't the publicity that we got in Libya.

0:29:210:29:25

The north of Sri Lanka was effectively destroyed field by

0:29:260:29:32

field, and tree by and hospital by hospital. And we didn't get the

0:29:320:29:37

reaction. Sri Lanka doesn't have oil and is not situated on the

0:29:370:29:40

Mediterranean, the UN secretary should speak up and say this isn't

0:29:400:29:47

good enough. You may have your strategic great power interests and

0:29:470:29:52

rivalries, but you are also supposed to uphold certain laws and

0:29:520:29:58

principles, and I don't think this in this case you are doing it.

0:29:580:30:03

report says within the last few months of the war there was no

0:30:040:30:07

single engagment. They said member states were heavily influenced by

0:30:070:30:09

what they thought member states wanted to hear, rather than what

0:30:090:30:19
0:30:190:30:20

they needed to know if they were to respond.

0:30:200:30:25

The end of Sri Lanka's vicious civil war unfolded in a world which

0:30:250:30:28

largly looked away, as the Government vowed to crush a

0:30:280:30:32

terrorist group, banned in many countries, including Britain.

0:30:320:30:37

Now the UN says it want to learn lessons are from this conflict, as

0:30:370:30:41

it confronts new crises in place like Syria. It took a risk in

0:30:410:30:46

ordering this report, we are told it now want to act on it.

0:30:460:30:50

But the war in Sri Lanka won't end until there is a proper reckoning.

0:30:500:30:54

Many say that means an independent international investigation into

0:30:540:30:58

war crimes and crimes against humanity.

0:30:590:31:04

That would demand a kind of courage and commitment we now know the UN

0:31:040:31:09

didn't show throughout the years of battle.

0:31:090:31:14

The BB cl. Has spoken to the UN, who said -- BBC has spoken to the

0:31:140:31:19

UN, but said it can't comment on a leaked report, and said it will

0:31:190:31:24

once the report has been presented to Ban Ki-Moon.

0:31:240:31:27

The Sri Lankan High Commision here in the UK has chosen not to comment

0:31:270:31:31

in the UK has chosen not to comment on the leaked report.

0:31:310:31:35

Should soap operas be more political, Polly Toynbee, writer

0:31:350:31:40

for the Guardian today, accuses The Archers of falling silent on

0:31:400:31:44

Government policy and says it could lead to public disengagment. Does

0:31:440:31:47

popular culture have a responsibility to educate us or

0:31:470:31:52

include us in political discourse. Realistically could soap characters

0:31:520:31:59

discuss the EU Working Time Directive without sending us into a

0:31:590:32:04

coma. 3,000 cockroaches. There are unconfirmed reports that one of the

0:32:050:32:08

stars of I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here has been bitten by a creepy

0:32:080:32:13

Crawley. But an ITV doctor said the creepy Crawley was expected make a

0:32:130:32:21

full recovery. Can the same be said of shrinking

0:32:210:32:25

violet MP Nadine Dorries, who has left her mid-Bedfordshire seat for

0:32:250:32:29

the outback. She said it was a better platform than the Commons

0:32:290:32:33

for airing her views on matters such as abortion. And the ratings

0:32:330:32:39

might seem to bear her out, almost ten million viewsers saw her

0:32:390:32:43

undergo trial by maggot last night. Maybe she has a point. People are

0:32:430:32:47

very cynical about politician, perhaps, if we see a politician

0:32:470:32:51

having to fight with a crocodile, or one of them being humiliated and

0:32:510:32:57

having to talk to a member of a boy band, perhaps they might get their

0:32:570:33:01

message across a bit more. Lucky for me that your bike got a

0:33:010:33:05

puncture, would you like a top-up. No I'm fine. Politicians have been

0:33:050:33:09

happy to tread the soap opera boards for the cameras, but some

0:33:090:33:13

commentators are complaining that a lack of political storylines in the

0:33:130:33:17

programmes themselves is unrealistic. And a lost opportunity

0:33:170:33:22

for engaging millions of viewers in current affairs.

0:33:220:33:26

Soap operas do dodge politics for two good reasons, one the British

0:33:260:33:30

public finds politics very dull, and secondly if you have a rampent

0:33:300:33:33

Labour character or Conservative, you will alienate half the audience.

0:33:330:33:40

Over the years there has been politics in soap operas, Sid Perk,

0:33:400:33:47

the republican in the Archers voted against entry into the Common

0:33:470:33:54

Market. And in Brookside Boby Grant was a vehement Labour shop steward.

0:33:540:33:58

Here is how it could work. It is not like it is a fortune, it has

0:33:580:34:03

over 90K on the clock. Where will we find the money. How, you work a

0:34:030:34:08

full day as it is. What are hard working people, who travel long

0:34:080:34:12

distances to get into work and pay their tacks meant to think. Why is

0:34:120:34:17

it, that when the oil price goes up the petrol price goes up, but when

0:34:170:34:23

the oil price comes down the petrol price just stays the same.

0:34:230:34:27

Actually, having people discussing political things, as indeed they

0:34:270:34:33

would, would liven the Archers up a bit. I could just imagine, I would

0:34:330:34:43

like to see Jacob Rees-Mogg in the corner of the Rovers Return slog it

0:34:430:34:50

out with a conversation about politics. Pussy cat, yes. While the

0:34:500:34:54

infag teetable George Galloway went, so now goes Nadine Dorries, and how

0:34:540:34:58

many others. It has certainly been said in the past that politic is

0:34:580:35:02

showbiz for ugly people. There are a lot of raging egos in Westminster,

0:35:020:35:06

who would absolutely love, I'm sure, Nadine's three week of glory. But

0:35:060:35:12

they wouldn't have the nerve to do it. If she comes through this

0:35:120:35:17

successfully, it is because the woman does have nerve.

0:35:170:35:21

It is a perfect fit, politics is a soap opera afterall, with regular

0:35:210:35:28

characters and recurring plot lines. But no omnibus edition.

0:35:280:35:32

We're joined now by Phil Redmond, the creator of Hollyoaks and

0:35:320:35:37

Brookside, Lembit Opik and Christine Hamilton, who amongst

0:35:370:35:39

other achievements have both appeared on I'm A Celebrity Get Me

0:35:390:35:43

Out Of Here. If I can start with you Phil, would you agree with that

0:35:440:35:48

assessment by Polly Toynbee that politics is largely absent from

0:35:480:35:53

soaps and dramas? Yeah, I would agree whole heartedly. It is

0:35:530:35:56

frustrating for me, because that was one of the reasons why

0:35:560:36:00

Brookside came to an end, really, that the political element, the

0:36:000:36:04

hard slog of social reality never actually sat comfortably with the

0:36:040:36:08

way the channel, and I think most of the television evolved towards

0:36:080:36:14

reality TV. Why did it come to an end? What do you mean it never sat

0:36:140:36:18

comfortably? I think where Brookside raison d'etre was to

0:36:180:36:22

focus on social issues, and they are the symptom or result of

0:36:220:36:27

political actions. I think early in the report, the mention of Bobby

0:36:270:36:32

Grant being a trade unionist, that was balanced by Paul Collins from

0:36:320:36:38

management, and the Huntingdons being from the professional classes,

0:36:380:36:43

and Gavin Taylor from the informal economy. The whole point of

0:36:430:36:47

Brookside was to put the different political aspect of the society in

0:36:470:36:50

juxtaposition, so we could have the debates. And right through the

0:36:500:36:53

history, the nurses were there to talk about the National Health

0:36:530:36:58

Service, even Frank scam Rogers, as a trucker was talking about splits

0:36:580:37:02

and transport. I think one of the problems was that television in the

0:37:020:37:06

90s drifted away from this sort of thing, trying to chase, I think it

0:37:060:37:10

was chasing ratings on a more cost effective basis. It got more and

0:37:100:37:14

more difficult to enter into contentious debates. Broadly, was

0:37:140:37:18

it the audience that left you, do you think the audience couldn't

0:37:180:37:23

handle that kind of stuff, they wanted to find it easier in

0:37:230:37:29

entertainment? Not at all. The strongest, most powerful moments in

0:37:290:37:36

Brookside's history was when we were running the Jordash story,

0:37:360:37:39

about domestic violence, and it was underlining about the law and how

0:37:390:37:44

it was slow to react and how women were treated under the law. The

0:37:440:37:48

lessons I have come away with on Grange Hill, Brookside and

0:37:480:37:53

Hollyoaks is the more challenging the story the more the audience

0:37:530:37:57

appreciate it. The difficulty is the overregulation of broadcasting,

0:37:570:38:02

and the broadcasters had the mantra of if in doubt take it out. There

0:38:020:38:06

is the appetite in the audience. Ten years after Brookside finished,

0:38:060:38:10

people are asking me why don't we have soaps to cover these political

0:38:100:38:18

issues. Christine, Lempit, it is your fault, you are the easily

0:38:180:38:22

digestible reality, I can see Phil is nodding. Of reality TV that

0:38:220:38:26

doesn't cover any of that stuff? don't think the average viewer, I

0:38:260:38:29

may be wrong, the average viewer turns on a soap, to use the

0:38:290:38:32

shorthand for their politics. It seems to me that you might not get

0:38:320:38:36

party politics, but if you get the party politics you will have each

0:38:360:38:39

party keeping an eagle eye on how much exposure their particular

0:38:390:38:44

views get. I remember way back in the 1960s when Labour was in power,

0:38:440:38:49

I'm already Jack, do you remember than wonderful -- I'm All right

0:38:490:38:53

Jack, do you remember that wonderful film, and Labour said not

0:38:530:38:57

to air it near general election, because it was an apolitical film.

0:38:570:39:01

It is hard to get the balance right. I don't feel that people want it in

0:39:010:39:05

their soaps. They watch soaps for escapism. You get people talking

0:39:050:39:09

about whether it is abortion or whatever, but you don't want party

0:39:090:39:13

politics. Let me let Phil respond to that. People don't go to their

0:39:130:39:20

7.30 for that kind of stuff? have to remember you can't just

0:39:200:39:25

group all soaps as a generic term. People knew exactly what Brookside

0:39:250:39:29

was, and when I was running Emmerdale, we knew it was

0:39:290:39:33

completely different. Every single character in a soap should have a

0:39:330:39:38

strong back story, and within that, should actually be part of their

0:39:380:39:42

political allegiance, that is what forms and shapes us all. Polly, in

0:39:420:39:48

an article today, used the phrase "looking at politics eliptically" I

0:39:490:39:54

think that is really the see thing. You don't go on television and put

0:39:540:39:59

a polemic where you talk about the consequences of political actions.

0:39:590:40:03

Nadine said, or one thing she was saying is she wants to use a

0:40:030:40:07

reality show to talk about, and give her a platform to talk about

0:40:070:40:10

abortion. Do you think that politicians should do

0:40:100:40:14

entertainment? I completely agree with Nadine's decision to go into

0:40:140:40:18

the jungle. That was a minority view last week, I'm glad to see

0:40:180:40:21

that is taking currency now. Why? Because it is authentic. Nadine is

0:40:210:40:25

being herself. It seems to me she's coming across quite well. It is

0:40:250:40:28

authentic to end up in a jungle with a load of people you don't

0:40:280:40:31

know on television? The situation is contrived, but she is being

0:40:310:40:34

herself. I think that one of the great complaints that people have

0:40:340:40:38

about politics is they are all grey, you can't connect with them, the

0:40:380:40:41

public don't really dial with politicians in a real way. She --

0:40:410:40:44

deal with politicians in a real way. She as coming across in the

0:40:440:40:47

environment of an entertainment programme that millions of people

0:40:470:40:57
0:40:570:40:57

watch. This is the big thing this is why I disagree with Phil Redmond,

0:40:570:41:03

politics has a low viewing on a low year and high on a high year. You

0:41:030:41:06

can't force people to look at politics in the bad days. Do you

0:41:060:41:09

buy this that we get a real politician, and it is justified

0:41:090:41:13

because we understand more about the real person? If Nadine had come

0:41:130:41:19

to me in advance, and say should I go on the show and people do it. I

0:41:190:41:22

have warned some people off and stopped them going on it, others,

0:41:220:41:25

like Carol Thatcher, you will be great, do it. She didn't ask me, I

0:41:250:41:28

would have said I don't think you should do it as a sitting member of

0:41:290:41:31

parliament. That was my view, and slightly half of me still think she

0:41:310:41:39

doesn't be doing it. But she is doing it. The viewing figures are

0:41:390:41:42

enormous and they are getting bigger. You can't hide in the

0:41:420:41:47

jungle, she is coming across as you are, she has been pretty brave to

0:41:470:41:55

expose herself in that way. Jooing I think the viewers will make the -

0:41:550:41:59

- I think the viewers will make the decision they always do, she will

0:41:590:42:03

either come out as a flake or not. You are saying it is a magnifying

0:42:030:42:09

glass, there is nothing wrong with it? The bigger issue, politically,

0:42:090:42:13

is people will ask, why is an MP, theoretically elected to represent

0:42:130:42:19

them taking time out to do that? She has made a good investment of

0:42:190:42:23

time, she has been so respected in parliament. The first time I have

0:42:230:42:26

ever told people to vote for a Conservative MP, is Nadine Dorries

0:42:260:42:30

in the jungle. What I'm really saying is what Nadine is doing here

0:42:300:42:35

is taking a risk, I think we all agree with that, but taking an

0:42:350:42:38

alternative approach. I think Phil should agree with this, at the end

0:42:380:42:43

of the day what she's trying 0 do is reconnect with the public.

0:42:430:42:47

Everybody...You Are not going to tell me people understood your Lib

0:42:470:42:50

Dem policies after you had had been in the jungle? No, but more people

0:42:500:42:55

knew me, they had a bigger opinion, I have more opportunity to access

0:42:550:42:59

people not inherently interested in politics. People who say it is a

0:42:590:43:04

publicity stunt done for money are cynics? Nadine is a little niave if

0:43:040:43:08

she thinks conversations about reducing the number of week when

0:43:090:43:14

you have an abortion will be prime time television, it is not. If she

0:43:140:43:18

does well and the people take to her she will have a greater

0:43:180:43:21

enhanced platform, she will be better known than the cabinet and

0:43:210:43:24

Shadow Cabinet combined. It will give her a platform to speak about

0:43:240:43:30

the things she feels strongly about. If more people go out, more the

0:43:300:43:33

disengaged voters go out as a result to recognising some of these

0:43:330:43:40

people, politician, that's not a bad thing, is it? That's not a bad

0:43:400:43:44

thing, but that is not really the issue. She could do that on any

0:43:440:43:50

kind of show. It is raised the awareness, that is fine. The real

0:43:500:43:56

issue is we don't have any political discourse on television

0:43:560:44:01

at the moment. Even you guys, although you have your own

0:44:010:44:04

political soap opera at the moment, you are more concerned about the

0:44:040:44:07

careers of politicians in the Westminster village than you are

0:44:070:44:15

with taking the issue right across. Credit for Nadine, six million

0:44:150:44:19

people watched that, and three million watched Question Time, I

0:44:190:44:22

respect her, that is the way to get politics into the mind of the

0:44:220:44:25

public. Most people aren't interested in politics, that is the

0:44:250:44:28

sad truth. Thank you very much all of you. We have run out of time, we

0:44:280:44:32

will take you very quickly through tomorrow's papers. The Telegraph

0:44:320:44:37

In-depth investigation and analysis of the stories behind the day's headlines, including gas prices, the new Chinese leadership, the UN and Sri Lankan civilians in war, and should politics and soaps mix? With Emily Maitlis.


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